MLS analysis

MLS notebook: Youth report, plus Crew solid, NYCFC struggling, CONCACAF ups & downs, and more

ASN's Brian Sciaretta provides his weekly MLS American Youth Report as well as some other thoughts throughout the league. 
BY Brian Sciaretta Posted
March 14, 2024
8:00 AM

THE 2024 MLS season is rolling on and it is busy with league play and CONCACAF action. All of that has given us surprises – both good and bad. We all predicted Columbus to be good, MLS teams would struggle in Mexico, Nick Cushing would be early hot seat material, and ASN predicted Cincy would struggle to score without Vazquez.

Some things have stayed the same. Shaqiri is still underperforming. Concacaf Champions Cup teams are spread too thin. Benteke, Giakoumakis, and Messi are good scorers in this league.

The positive surprises are Phil Neville at Portland who has his team off to a great start. Laurent Courtois has Montreal starting the season with seven points from three road games (when ASN predicted a tough season). Then you have Toronto FC who also has seven points from three games through the strength of their DPs. Then you have Minnesota, which as seven points despite not having a coach in place until March.

Then there are the disappointing surprises. There was optimism for New England, but they have zero points from three games. Orlando is bleeding goals and has real problems. LAFC hasn’t been able to get Denis Bouanga to find the back of the net, a big problem with Vela’s departure. The injuries that are hitting Houston and Seattle.

One thing that has remained constant is that the league has become a pretty good place for top homegrowns. As always, we’ll start our weekly column with a look at domestic young players.


American Youth Report


Duncan McGuire: Try as Orlando will, they can’t replace Duncan McGuire effectively with a DP forward. Last year McGuire came in and beat out DP Ecran Kara. Now it’s still early and Luis Muriel has a great resume, but McGuire should be the starter for Orlando in big games. Orlando has been very disappointing to start the season, but McGuire did his part it a 3-2 loss where he scored both his team’s goals. But look at how he scored them. The first, in the opening minute was great movement and a nice finish. The second was a just a great shot. McGuire has a lot of tools. But why didn’t he start in Mexico against Tigres?


Blackburn must be kicking themselves for not being able to get the paperwork done in time. For now, McGuire is on Orlando but we will see if his stock changes this summer with a half season and the Olympics on the horizon.

Brian Gutierrez: I have rated Gutierrez as a player for quite some time and the concern for him as always been production in the final third. But there is another concern in that he just does not play well with Shaqiri on the field, and that has been a problem for Shaqiri since he joined Chicago. He has not brought out the best in his team. When Gutierrez plays in place of Shaqiri, things tend to go better. That was not the case in Saturday’s 2-1 heartbreaking loss to Columbus where Gutierrez didn’t do much over 60 minutes and Shaqiri did less over his 83. Will this cost Guti a spot on the Olympic team? Possibly. There is a lot of competition.

Chris Brady: On the flip side, Chris Brady kept Chicago in this game for longer than they deserved by making a eight saves, several were quality. The Olympics are tough for Brady if rosters only provide for two goalkeepers. Slonina and Schulte are probably the most likely duo.


John Tolkin: Tolkin struggled in his season debut in Week 2 against Houston as Griffin Dorsey got past him a number of times. But Tolkin has been dealing with an injury and needed to shake off rust. In Week 3, Tolkin was back to his normal self in the 2-1 win over FC Dallas as he was very good on both sides of the ball. It bodes well for his season ahead. Tolkin still looks like the top Olympic left back over Caleb Wiley, Jonathan Gomez, George Bello, or Noah Allen. Maybe Kristoffer Lund drops down? That would be competition.

Dan Edelman: sticking with the Red Bulls, 2023 U.S. U-20 World Cup captain Dan Edelman has been strong to start the season and he has a very good partnership with Frankie Amaya in central midfield. In the 2-1 over Dallas, Edelman had a bad start to the game when a poor backpass gifted Dallas a great chance. From there moving forward, Edelman was very good helping to control a game played in downpour. Edelman probably won’t be involved with the U.S. Olympic team. It’s hard to see him climb past Aidan Morris or Tanner Tessmann but he could be ahead of Josh Atencio for the next man up.

Cole Bassett: Bassett generally always puts up decent numbers for Colorado and the U-23 eligible attacking midfielder scored the game-winning goal in an impressive 2-1 away win over Real Salt Lake. He was the MOTM not just for his goal, but also solid defensive numbers as well. He was 5/7 in his tackles, 7/11 in his ground duels, 2/3 in his aerials. He made the biggest impact for Colorado in their win.


Matai Akinmboni: It is a very important test for DC United to develop Akinmboni given the scarcity of young American central defenders playing first team minutes. Akinmboni played the final 22 minutes of United’s 0-0 draw with Cincinnati. He only had six touches and was 5/5 in passing but the important thing is that he was trusted with seeing out a cleansheet against the reigning Shield winners.  

Kristian Fletcher: The U.S. U-20 forward is pushing into a bigger role with DC United where he is currently playing behind Christian Benteke. Thus far in 2024, he’s had his dangerous moments but his duel winning has been problematic. That’s understandable given his age and frame, but he needs to work on it. In the 0-0 draw with Cincy, he played the final 32 minutes but only one of his 20 touches was in Cincy’s box.

Patrick Schulte: The likely U.S. Olympic team goalkeeper (either he’s No. 1 or No. 2) helped Columbus to a 2-1 win over Chicago. He wasn’t tested much and only made one save.

Aidan Morris: Morris continues to be an important part of the Columbus midfield – which is impressive given the Crew are the best team in the league right now. Against Chicago, he had 101 touches, was 78/84 passing, 3/3 long balls, 8 balls into the attacking third, but only had one shot. He is so consistent with his performances these days that he finds a way to always get on the ball a lot and set the tone in midfield.

Gavin Beavers: the impressive young goalkeeper for Real Salt Lake started in the club’s 2-1 loss to Colorado but still made five saves, with three of them difficult. Beavers should be in the mix for the U.S. U-20 team and he is part of a second straight cycle where the team should be in good shape at goalkeeper.


Caleb Wiley: Wiley went 90 minutes for Atlanta in a comfortable 4-1 rout over New England. While Atlanta had a good game, Wiley was relatively quiet as he looks for a spot on the Olympic team.

Esmir Bajraktarevic: The young teenager winger came off the bench for New England and played the last 34 minutes. He was generally pretty sharp on a day where his team was a step behind.

Bernard Kamungo: The talented FC Dallas winger couldn’t get into the swing of things as Dallas was lost in the elements. He should have had a goal early after a bad Edelman backpass but he couldn’t connect.


Other MLS Thoughts




It was a brutal Tuesday night in the CONCACAF Champions League as Orlando City and the Philadelphia Union travelled to Mexico and suffered multigoal losses after playing to 0-0 draws at home.

Unsurprisingly, both teams have been disappointing to start the 2024 MLS season. Orlando has had one draw and two losses (including a 5-0 loss in Miami). Philadelphia, meanwhile, has two draws from two games with the game this past week getting rained out.

Orlando’s 4-2 loss away to Tigres wasn’t that far off expectations. Tigres rarely losses at home at El Volcan. In Liga MX play, Tigres hasn’t lost at home in 21 games. That’s a phenomenal run and a great home advantage.

For Orlando, the round was lost when they failed to win their home leg. The chances were there and Orlando was the better team in Florida. But with Tigres holding out to a 0-0 draw there, they were almost surely going to advance. Orlando scored two road goals, but fell apart in the end. But the concern for Orlando is that between MLS and now the Champions Cup, the results aren’t there.

As for Philadelphia, a 6-0 loss at Pachuca is inexcusable. Yes, the game got away from them in the end and playing at 8000 feet above sea level is brutal for a team that is based at sea level. But Philadelphia came out weak when they needed to come out strong. And like Orlando, they were in tough shape when they couldn’t win at home despite having the chances.

If Philly had a lead going into the second leg or if they scored early in Pachuca before the altitude set in, then they could have approached the game differently with a defensive approach to conserve energy.

The same applies to Cincinnati that didn’t score at home but watched Brandon Vazquez give Monterrey a road goal.


But again, the deal is the same. Playing in Mexico against the big Liga MX teams is very hard for MLS teams. They need to capitalize at home.

The good news for MLS teams is that Columbus is through to the quarterfinal and Inter Miami will likely be there as well. Those teams should be tough in single elimination games. Both teams have a lot of talent. New England will also go through but it’s a little more pessimistic for them given their three losses from three games to start the MLS season.

Columbus advanced past Houston after a 1-1 draw at home was good enough after a 2-1 win on the road. Columbus has had a tough time closing games out to start the season but were still the better team. With them moving through, it’s good for the league to see one of the best teams still alive.

Inter Miami advanced past Nashville on Wednesday night 31 (5-3 on aggregate), which was expected. Lionel Messi had a goal and an assist to Luis Suarez but had to leave in the 50th minute with what Tata Martino said was muscle overload. It will likely rule him out for the weekend’s game vs. DC United.


The key for Inter Miami is to rotate effectively, focus on just making the playoffs and the CONCACAF Champions Cup. Trying to go all-out in the season is only going to result in getting beat up.

But it has to be a concern that Messi is dealing “a muscle overload in his right leg” (per Martino) in March just as the season is starting up. Miami has to rest up because next is a tough matchup likely against Monterrey (who are ahead against Cincy heading into leg 2) and Miami will need to have everyone available to prevail over two legs.


Midweek MLS musings


I am not sure what the plan is for NYCFC right now. Nick Cushing kept his job after 2023 despite winning fewer than one in three games. That was the club’s stated reason for firing Jason Kreis after its inaugural season. But Cushing inherited an MLS Cup winning team in 2022 and has overseen a steady decline. Kreis had an expansion team that wasn’t properly build (Lampard and Pirlo busting out were not on Kreis). Now after a bad 2023, Cushing’s NYCFC have lost their first three games of 2024.

Why have the standards changed between Cushing and Kreis? My guess is the stadium. NYCFC is trying to build a breathtaking new stadium known as “The Cube” but that is still a few years out. NYCFC wants to have a winning team going into The Cube. But that is still a few years away. If this was the year before the opening of the Cube, my hunch is that Cushing would be under more pressure. Winning now probably isn’t as important as winning when The Cube opens.

Still, if Cushing doesn’t win a game soon with NYCFC, I could see the club making a change.

On the flip side, Phil Neville failed to take off in Miami but he is off to a nice start with Portland – which is not an easy team to manage.

John Herdman is also doing a nice job with Toronto FC to start the season and while I don’t think Toronto are very good, Herdman has found a way to get Lorenzo Insigne and Federico Bernardeschi to excel, lift the team, and cut out the infighting. That’s a nice start.

Meanwhile, it’s also a lot more positive than I expected with Montreal under Laurent Courtois who is a step towards returning to Wilfried Nancy-style soccer. Seven points from three road games is great. The last coming in a 3-2 win over Miami without Messi.

Miami is fine. For them, it’s about squad rotation. If hey go for the Shield, they could breakdown with their older roster. It’s about playing decent soccer, winning some nice games along the way, focusing on a CONCACAF Champions Cup run, and getting into the playoffs healthy.

The Red Bulls look very strong to start the season. If they add a No. 9 this season, they can win the Cup. Lewis Morgan and Emil Forsberg combined with a CM pairing of Frankie Amaya and Dan Edelman is working.

FC Dallas is adjusting to a new style this year but even with that, their three points from three games is disappointing.

I am not too hopeful for Chicago because this team is under a lot of pressure to play Shaqiri and there is little evidence it is all going to come together for him.

The LA Galaxy can score, and their new attacking pieces are working out nicely. I still have doubts whether the defense is good enough for a long playoff run.  

For LAFC, Denis Bouanga is still scoreless. That combined with Carlos Vela still not sure about his future should be concerning for LAFC. It’s always tough for teams that get by with a player having a historically good season. If Bouanga can’t replicated that, it can have a devastating affect on the team. Just look at Austin last year when Sebastian Driussi didn’t match his 2022 output.

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